For the last stretch of sesquicentennial blogging… what do you want to see?

I don’t think we can put a mark on the calendar and say “This is when the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War Ends.”  But at the same time, the surrenders of key armies in Virginia and North Carolina is generally recognized as the point of closure.  As such, my project focused on 150th blogging will likewise start winding down. I’d taken on a “post a day” challenge at the end of December 2010, as part of my personal observance of the Sesquicentennial.  And that will come to a close in the next few months.  Reality is there are about sixty days or so to consider, after which the pace of 150ths slows considerably.   (Again, not to dismiss the surrenders west of the Mississippi.  But there’s a lot of empty dates on the calendar after the end of April.)

There are a lot of areas to explore in regard to the last days of the Civil War.  And if you have been reading for a while now, you know I like to work on some of the lesser worked rows, and in particular where the military history (under the classic definition) edges into some other divisions of history.  I’m mulling over continuing the posts on the Carolinas Campaign through North Carolina.  Unlike that of South Carolina, my perception is that the march through North Carolina has gotten its “due” attention from historians.  I don’t think I can improve upon the work done by Mark Bradley or my friend Eric Wittenberg in regard to the Bentonville Campaign or Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads (respectively).

There are some other subjects that I will put focus on through the spring.  One is the last military campaign into South Carolina, lead by Brigadier-General Edward Potter and consisting largely of USCT, through the state in April.  It’s another “footnote” in the larger story of the Civil War, but one that provides a bridge into the post-war situation in South Carolina.   Another topic I’d like to work in within the “day by day” format is President Jefferson F. Davis’ flight through the Carolinas and Georgia.  The path is well blazed by markers, so that allows me to showcase some of those along the way.

And of course… I will be “in the field” at several events between now and the end of April, from which I’ll do my best at covering here on the blog, on Twitter, and through Facebook.

All that said…. let me ask what you folks who spend a little part of your day reading the “stuff” I post what would be preferable.  More on Uncle Billy’s march?  More on something else?  I’ll offer up a poll here, but feel free to drop a comment if you would like:

I can’t say that my coverage of Lee’s Retreat or Wilson’s Campaign would be set upon the firm grounding of the …well… full appreciation of the ground on which the actions took place… as I’ve been able to offer for the Georgia and South Carolina operations.  But I’d consider taking up the task if the need is great.  That is so long as it does not detract from the two topics (Potter’s South Carolina Campaign and Davis’ flight) mentioned above.

Sherman’s March, March 3, 1865: “We skirmished heavily, and drove them rapidly through Cheraw”

In the afternoon of March 3, 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman wrote to Major-General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the Right Wing, expressing both intent and concerns with the march. After relating the status of the Left Wing, Sherman urged Howard on to Cheraw and to effect a crossing of the PeeDee River.  After that, Sherman would bring the Left Wing across.

Of course I am a little impatient to get across Pedee before Beauregard can swing around from Charlotte and Salidbury and oppose our crossing.  Once across the Pedee, I don’t fear the whole Confederate army, for if need be we can swing in against the right bank of Cape Fear and work down till we meet our people, but I shall aim to reach Fayetteville and Goldsborough, where I know Schofield must now be.

Of course, Major-General John Schofield’s forces were not yet to those points.  Nor would Schofield reach Goldsborough before the middle of March.  Still we have an interesting view of Sherman’s intent at this stage of the march.  The Carolinas Campaign was not the “cake walk” which is often portrayed.  There was still a risk that a concentrated Confederate force might injure Sherman’s force and perhaps even roll back some of the gains made.


At the time Sherman wrote his message to Howard, the Federals already had possession of Cheraw. This was but one important movement by several columns that day as the armies “closed up” from a week of difficult marches.  To the far left of the line, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatick’s cavalry moved to maintain a screen between the Confederates and the Fourteenth Corps.  The troopers skirmished at several points and crossed some columns over the state line into North Carolina. “My scouts have felt the enemy all day on the left,” reported Kilpatrick.    Sherman responded, “I want you to interpose between Charlotte and Cheraw til we are across” the PeeDee.

The infantry of the Fourteenth Corps made over twenty miles on the 3rd, clearing Lynches River and Black Creek. The column was understandably stretched out at day’s end, and somewhat vulnerable. But to the credit of the cavalry screen, only some annoyances of the rear guard were reported.  That evening, lead elements of the Fourteenth Corps camped a few miles south of the state line.

Initially Twentieth Corps prepared to move on Cheraw that morning.  However, “but a few miles on the march before the order was countermanded from information that the place was occupied by our troops.” as Major-General Alpheus S. Williams recalled.  Instead the lead division of the corps moved only a few miles towards Sneedsborough, allowing the trailing divisions to close up from the Black Creek crossing.

“Catching up” was the theme of the day for the Fifteenth Corps also.  Marching on the Camden-Cheraw Road, the leading division reached Thompson’s Creek outside Cheraw, with the others halting between that point and Juniper Creek.  That morning, while completing the crossing of Black Creek, Major-General John Smith’s Third Division briefly skirmished with a party of 30 Confederate cavalry.  The Confederates captured  Lieutenant-Colonel James Isaminger, 63rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, commanding the pioneer corps.  What made this incident of particular note was dress of the Confederates.  “It was supposed, until too late, that they were our own men, being dressed in complete suites of Federal uniform.”  Smith, himself, lead a party to recapture Isaminger, to no avail.

The Seventeenth Corps, however, was not “catching up” to anyone that day, save the rear guard of the Confederates evacuating Cheraw.  During the night, Lieutenant-General William Hardee withdrew all but a rear guard to the east side of the PeeDee.  Major-General Frank Blair pushed out for Cheraw early that morning.  After brushing aside a picket at Juniper Creek, the 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry was sent to the left to explore for crossing points upstream on Thompson’s Creek.  No practical crossing was found.  Instead, Blair would force a crossing on the Camden-Cheraw Road at Thomspon’s Creek, with Major-General Joseph Mower’s veteran division in the lead:

The enemy was first met in light force at an admirably selected position on the west side of Thompson’s Creek, where they had built a strong and extensive line of earthworks. Our skirmishers quickly drove them from this position and across Thompson’s Creek, saving the bridge, which they had already fired. In consequence of the abandonment of this strong line we were convinced that the main body of the army was retreating. We skirmished heavily, and drove them rapidly through Cheraw, using artillery upon them with effect, to and across the Pedee River, but were unable to save the bridge, it having been previously prepared for burning by covering it with resin, turpentine, &c., and was already in flames when our advance reached it.

Confederate troops under Major-General Matthew Butler and Colonel John Fiser did a good job of delaying the Federal advance.  But they were simply overwhelmed by the wave.  Lieutenant William Hyzer’s Battery C, 1st Michigan Light Artillery moved up with the Federal skirmishers and went into battery directly across from the bridge.  Though inflicting considerable casualties on the Confederate rear guard, Hyser was unable to prevent the firing of the bridge. The loss of the bridge incensed Mower considerably.  He would attempt to rally two different regiments into mounting a charge over the burning bridge before it collapsed.  Cooler subordinates advised the division commander to simply wait for the pontoons.  Still, the advance into Cheraw occurred with all the speed which Sherman had required.

In Cheraw, the Federals found the train depot on fire, but considerable stores and equipment intact.

Our captures at this point consisted of 25 pieces of field artillery, 16 limbers complete, 16 caissons complete, 5,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, 20,000 rounds of infantry ammunition, 2,000 stand small.arms, 1,000 sabers, and a large amount of material for the manufacture of fixed ammunition. Also an immense amount of tools belonging to the ordnance and machine shops; 1 locomotive, 12 to 15 cars, and thousands of bales of cotton, nearly all of which was destroyed before leaving the town.

That evening, Blair issued orders for “details to examine every house in the town and take therefrom all breadstuffs, rice, potatoes, meat, sugar, &c., except sufficient to last the families in the houses from which the stores are taken ten days.”  To reduce abuses and pillaging, Blair further directed that “a commissioned officer will accompany each detail, and he will be held responsible for the conduct of his men.”  Men were not allowed to enter houses “except in presence of the officers.” So while certainly foraging hard on the people of Cheraw, Blair was adamant about keeping the soldiers within the prescribed guidelines.

Among the cannons captured at Cheraw was one Blakely gun of note.  A plaque over the breech read something to the effect, “Presented to the Sovereign State of South Carolina by one of her citizens residing abroad, in commemoration of the 20th of December 1860.”  That particular rifle had been on Morris Island during the first bombardment of Fort Sumter.   So this was a prize worth showing off.  And that the Federals did to good effect, firing the gun across the PeeDee.


(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 381 and 584; Part II, Serial 99, pages 661, 665, 667, and 670-1.)

The Execution of James Miller and an end of “Death to all Foragers”?

As I mentioned in closing for the post earlier today, the execution of James Miller stands as one of the prominent events in the march through South Carolina.  As I thumb through the many histories of the campaign at my disposal, the only ones which fail to mention the execution are those works which only cover the activities up to the burning of Columbia.  And doing a little historiography shuffle here, we find that most historians reference the account given in the 30th Illinois regimental history.  This makes good sense, as the 30th was the unit from which the dead forager, Private Robert M. Woodruff, came and was the unit detailed to carry out the execution.  Let me be lengthy here and quote that passage almost in its entirety (The whole of the regimental history is on line should you wish to browse):

They would kill our foragers and pin a piece of paper on their uniforms with this notice: “Death to all Foragers”. General Sherman issued an order which was sent to the Confederate commander that he would take life for life. It was not very long until a member of Co. “H” of our regiment by the name of Woodrough was found dead.

We had a lot of prisoners in the corrall and arrangements were made for them to cast lots to determine who should be taken. Slips of paper were put in a hat and a drawing was conducted by an officer appointed for that purpose. One slip of paper had a black mark on it, and the man drawing it was to be shot. The slips of paper were put in a hat and held up so the men could not see it.

A man by the name of Small drew the slip with the black mark on it. He drew two, and was told to drop one back. He kept the one that was his death warrant. A detail of twelve men was made from the dead man’s company to do the shooting. They were furnished guns loaded for the occasion, six with blank and six with ball. The man was given in charge of Chaplain Cole of the 31 regiment. He talked and prayed with the man, and brought him to the place of execution and asked him if he had anything to say. He said: “I was forced into the army, never was in a battle, never wished the Yankees any harm. I have a large family, all girls. I have been a local Methodist preacher”. His home was about 40 miles from there. There was much feeling for the man, and tears were shed. The firing squad had taken their places, and after the man made his talk the Chaplain blindfolded him and placed him against a tree where he was to be shot. The man requested that he be allowed to lean against the tree without being tied. The request was granted. Major Rhoads, ex Captain of Co. “H”, commanded firing squad, and cautioned the men to take good aim so the man would not suffer from a wound. At the command of “Fire!”, the guns all cracked at once. The man stiffened and quivered a little, and fell dead. Five balls struck the body and one in the thigh. Co. “A” of the 30th, commanded by Capt. Candor was detailed to take charge of the grounds and see that the execution was properly conducted. The man of Co. “H” that was killed, was not well thought of and many regrets were heard that a good man was killed for him, but that put a stop to the kiling (sic) of our foragers. Still bear in mind Sherman’s saying.

When Maj. Rhoads received the order to execute the man he refused to obey. Gen. Sherman told him he would obey the order or be courtmarshaled. Maj. Rhoads was a good man and a good officer, and this act bore on his mind as long as he lived. …The man was buried where he was killed, and board was put at the head of his grave, on which was written how he came to his death. Soldiers become hardened to seeing men killed, but a scene like the killing of this man will be on their minds as long as they live. This execution toop (sic) place near Cherew, S. C. ….

First things first, we must excuse the regimental historian, G. B. McDonald, for getting two principal names wrong – Robert M. Woodruff’s name appears in the Official Records from Maj0r-General Frank Blair’s orders.  And the executed soldier was Private James M. Miller, Company C, 5th (Brown’s) Battalion South Carolina Reserves.  But to confirm, we have this receipt from the 3rd Division, Seventeenth Corps’ provost, listing James Miller by name:

James Miller Page 7

I would also call out another particular mentioned by McDonald.  Lieutenant-Colonel William Rhoades, whom I’m pretty sure was at least breveted by this time, and not a Major, was not threatened with “courtmarshaled” by Major-General William T. Sherman.  Rather, Sherman was miles away at that time with Twentieth Corps near Chesterfield (Blair may have wished he’d been there that day, but another “what if” perhaps).  Perhaps it was Brigadier-General Manning Force, commanding Third Division at that time, who threatened Rhodes.

But, that is not to say we throw out the entire story due to three inaccurate points.  Miller was killed by the firing squad.  And enough men later wrote about how the episode shook them up, that I have no doubt of the emotional impact.

However, in our historiography we link the execution of Miller to the threats of reprisal exchanged between the cavalrymen starting on February 22 and leading up to threats of escalation between Sherman and Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton. But let us look at the details here.

First off, the death of Woodruff does not match the mode and manner of the earlier forager executions.  Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick alleged those men had their throats cut, bodies mutilated, or were shot in the back.  In the case of Woodruff, he was bludgeoned to death.

The location of Woodruff’s death was far away from the Texas cavalry units that Kilpatrick fingered in his allegations.  Blakeny’s Bridge was practically in the middle of the Federal concentration at that time.  Reports of the earlier forager executions had indicated those incidents occurred on the fringes of the Federal columns.  And recall that Blair had ordered only a day earlier that all foragers be constrained to the flanks of the column – as opposed to fore and rear.  Woodruff might have been where he shouldn’t have, if that made any difference.  But the location points to Woodruff’s killer being an irregular or person(s) detached from the formal Confederate forces.  ( I would not rule out a civilian defending property… but if the Federals who found Woodruff had suspected such, there would have been reprisals on suspected parties, or at least mention of such in reports to Blair.)

I think we should consider that in the context of the Woodruff-Miller incident.  There is, I’d argue, a separation from the earlier incidents.  If nothing else, we should recognize that Woodruff was probably not killed by the same hands as those who left “death to forager” notes.  After exchanging prisoners with Kilpatrick, Major-General Joseph Wheeler, and for that matter Hampton, seemed to let the matter drop.

Given the tone of Hampton’s last message to Sherman, one would think Miller’s death would prompt a recorded execution. But it didn’t.  Was that because Hampton cooled down?  I doubt it, as that was not the man’s nature.  Rather I think, if he was made fully aware of the incident, Hampton found it necessary to put Woodruff’s death in context – not willing to condone the death of that particular forager and possibly promote some lawless element in South Carolina.  But I’m speculating… and that’s not good.

The point remains, however, that Woodruff-Miller differed in particulars from the Kilpatrick-Wheeler affair over foragers and retaliation.  So to say that Miller’s execution somehow “chilled” the threats of retaliation is not well founded. Rather it seems the Kilpatrick-Wheeler prisoner exchange was the action that reduced pressures on that line.

Nor, for what it is worth, would the claim that Sherman gave verbal orders to restrain his foragers after Hampton’s threats.  Federal commanders had issued reminders in regard to foragers, and reformed their foraging policies almost from the start of marching out of Atlanta.  Sherman did, and would not have hesitated, issuing one more directive to clarify the practice.  On the other hand, one might well say that the “bummers” ceased pillaging so much as there was simply not much in that part of South Carolina to pillage.  From Camden to Chesterfield were some of the poorer districts of South Carolina (and the portion of North Carolina to which they passed over the next week was not that much richer).

At any rate, the short military career of James Miller came to a close on this day 150 years ago.  He’d enlisted on October 10, 1864 at Cheraw in Brown’s Battalion, which became the 5th Battalion South Carolina Reserves.  His unit was detailed to guard prisoners in Florence and picket various places west of Cheraw.  On February 28, 1865, Miller was captured by the Seventeenth Corps.  And as transcribed to his card, on March 2, 1865, he was “Sent to the 3rd Division by orders.”

James Miller Page 5

James Miller was simply a man who happened to be at the wrong place and was caught up in the greater atrocity that was the Civil War.